Florida Baker Act Attorney - Kendra Parrris

The Baker Act

What is the Baker Act – Involuntary Mental Health Examinations in Florida

If your loved one has been Baker Acted, please call us at (407) 706-3967.

Florida’s Baker Act (Chapter 394 of the Florida Statutes) is the law that allows police, doctors, and family members to have someone committed for an involuntary 72-hour mental health examination. Both children and adults may be Baker Acted, and it can be a very scary thing for everyone involved. This page is designed to give you an outline of what you might expect if it happens to a loved one, but bear in mind that things move very quickly during Baker Act proceedings. It’s important to call or email about your legal options as soon as you can.

If a doctor or police officer has “reason to believe” that a person has a mental illness requiring an involuntary mental health examination, then the person may be Baker Acted based on the following criteria:

  1. The person has refused voluntary examination OR the person is unable to determine for himself or herself whether examination is necessary; AND
    • 2.a. Without care or treatment, the person is likely to suffer from neglect or refuse to care for himself or herself; such neglect or refusal poses a real and present threat of substantial harm to his or her well-being; and it is not apparent that such harm may be avoided through the help of willing family members or friends or the provision of other services; OR
    • 2.b. There is a substantial likelihood that without care or treatment the person will cause serious bodily harm to himself or herself or others in the near future, as evidenced by recent behavior.

Note how these criteria are set up. The person has to either refuse a voluntary exam or be unable to consent to the exam and meet one or both of the following criteria:

  1. be likely to suffer from harmful self-neglect that can’t be helped by willing family and friends and/or
  2. be likely to cause serious harm to himself or to others.

Most people are brought in under the second criteria – harm to self or others – and of those, the vast majority are admitted for potential harm to self (suicidal thoughts or behaviors).

The true first step in the Baker Act process is transportation. According to Florida law, a person who is being taken in for an involuntary mental health examination must be transported by the police (unless the person is already in the hospital being treated for an emergency medical condition). The police are required to take the person to the nearest Baker Act Receiving Facility (BARF) in the county where the incident takes place. Parents should also be aware that the police are not required to get permission to Baker Act a child, or even to notify parents before it happens. However, most schools and districts do have policies in place requiring that parents be told if their child is being transported to a mental health facility under the Baker Act.

The next step is admission to the facility for the 72-hour examination. This is governed by Section 394.463, Florida Statutes. Keep in mind that 72 hours is the upper limit on how long an examination may be; there is no requirement that a person be kept for the entire three-day period. During that time, the facility has 24 hours to conduct a physical examination and can at any point conduct the psychiatric evaluation to determine if the person qualifies for a longer period of treatment. Be aware that you have a right to refuse medication, but that refusing medication is often used by medical staff to claim that you’re “noncompliant” (and therefore must be held longer).

Within the 72-hour examination period, the facility must make one of three decisions. They can:

  1. Ask the patient to admit himself on a voluntary basis (assuming he is mentally competent to make that determination);
  2. Release the patient; or
  3. Petition the court to admit the patient for a longer period of mental health treatment.

If the facility petitions for further involuntary treatment, they have an additional five business days within which they must hold a hearing before a judge or magistrate. In these hearings, it is technically the State of Florida that is petitioning for further treatment, even though it was the facility that initially submitted the petition. This is because only the government has the authority to remove a person’s liberty. And because this is an adversarial process between the State and the patient, every person who is subject to a petition for involuntary treatment is entitled to have a public defender at the hearing (this only applies after a petition for longer treatment is filed; you do not get an attorney simply because you’ve been taken in for a 72-hour examination).

I often see facilities file a petition for further involuntary treatment just to buy themselves a few more days past the 72-hour mark. They will quite frequently drop the petition before the hearing is held. This is, in effect, a rather sneaky way of extending the examination period to five or seven days, rather than the three days that is permitted by the statute for a typical Baker Act. This is one of the reasons that you may want to hire legal representation: a lawyer can immediately start working on your behalf to let the facility know that they do not have grounds to petition for further treatment and, hopefully, get the facility to drop the matter before the hearing.

And you may also want to hire an attorney because the public defenders who are assigned in these cases usually don’t see the patient’s file until the morning of the hearing. They don’t have any time to prepare.

Section 394.467, Florida Statutes, governs petitions for further involuntary placement. The criteria for a court to consider when determining whether to grant a petition for longer inpatient treatment are essentially the same as the criteria for the initial Baker Act (refused voluntary treatment and either harmfully neglectful or a danger to self or others). But there is a third criteria: inpatient placement must be the least restrictive environment that would allow for the person’s improvement. This is a huge catch, and it’s the primary reason why a court might refuse to grant a petition for longer treatment. If a petition is granted, however, the court can order the patient to stay in inpatient treatment for as long as 90 days (or six months in some extreme circumstances).


Involuntary inpatient treatment carries with it very severe limitations on a person’s fundamental and constitutional right of liberty and free association. As a result, the standards that courts apply when considering a petition for involuntary placement are supposed to be quite high. That said, magistrates and courts are often very deferential to the mental health facility’s findings. An experienced attorney with knowledge of the applicable statutes and case law will be able to help you navigate a hearing and receive a favorable outcome.

Because an involuntary commitment amounts to a state-sanctioned restriction of liberty, there are legal mechanisms to petition the court for release even if the court grants the State’s petition for further treatment. Just as with prisoners, a patient can file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus contesting the detention and requesting immediate release. You will definitely need an experienced attorney to handle this kind of matter, as a habeas petition is very involved and can essentially only be filed one time. There are other kinds of extraordinary writs and petitions that may also be filed; consult an attorney if this is a situation that you or a loved one ever finds yourself in.

Individuals should also be aware that some Baker Acts result in the police filing for a “Risk Protection Order” as well. These risk protection orders (or RPOs) allow law enforcement to ask the court to take away a person’s firearm rights for up to a year – even if there is no involuntary treatment commitment by the mental health court and the individual is released within 72 hours. Parris Law, P.A. has extensive experience with these proceedings and can guide you through them. Police may try to force you to sign away your Second Amendment rights. Don’t let them bully you into doing that; call us to consult about the matter.

This is by no means an exhaustive overview of the Baker Act laws and provisions. There are administrative rules implementing the Act as well as numerous guidance papers issued by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCF), and many pitfalls may arise that make securing release more difficult. If you have any questions or want to learn more about your options, email us at info@parrislaw.org or fill out the contact form below.

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